(Heb. Mordekay', מָרדּכִי, either from the Persian, little man, see Gesenius, Thes. Heb. p. 818; comp. Benfey, Monatsnamnen, page 201; or from MERODACH, i.q. worshipper of Afars, Simon, Onom. page 558; Sept. Μαρδοχαῖος v.r. in Nehemiah Μαρδοχέος), the name of one or two men during the Babylonian exile.
1. One of the principal Israelites who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel (Ezr 2:2; Ne 7:7). B.C. 536. He was perhaps identical with the following.
2. The son of Jair, of the tribe of Benjamin, and of the lineage of king Saul; apparently one of the captives transported to Babylon with Jehoiachin (Es 2:5). B.C. 598. He was resident at Susa, then the metropolis of the Persian empire, and had under his care his niece Hadassah, otherwise Esther, at the time when the fairest damsels of the land were gathered together, that from among them a fitting successor to queen Vashti might be selected for king Xerxes. Among them was Esther, and on her the choice fell; while, by what management we know not, her relationship to Mordecai, and her Jewish descent, remained unknown at the palace. B.C. 479. The uncle lost none of his influence over the niece by her elevation, although the seclusion of the royal harem excluded him from direct intercourse with her. He seems to have held some office about the court, for we find him in daily attendance there; and it appears to have been through this employment that he became privy to a plot of two of the chamberlains against the life of the king, which through Esther he made known to the monarch. This great service was, however, suffered to pass without reward at the time. On the rise of Haman to power at court, Mordecai alone, of all the nobles and officers who crowded the royal gates, refused to manifest the customary signs of homage to the royal favorite. Some think that this refusal arose from religious scruples, as if such prostration (προσκύνησις) were akin with idolatry (see Thenne's two monographs, Sorau, 1747, Brieg, 1750). It would be too much to attribute this to an independence of spirit which, however usual in Europe, is unknown in Eastern courts. Haman was an Amalekite; and Mordecai brooked not to bow himself down before one of a nation which from the earliest times had been the most decided enemies of the Jewish people. The Orientals are tenacious of the outward marks of respect, which they hold to be due to the position they occupy; and the erect mien of Mordecai among the bending courtiers escaped not the keen eye of Haman. He noticed it, and brooded over it from day to day: he knew well the class of feelings in which it originated, and, remembering the eternal enmity vowed by the Israelites against his people, and how often their conquering sword had all but swept his nation from the face of the earth, he vowed by one great stroke to exterminate the Hebrew nation, the fate of which he believed to be in his hands. The temptation was great, and to his illregulated mind irresistible. He therefore procured the well-known and bloody decree from the king for the massacre of all the Israelites in the empire in one day. When this decree became known to Mordecai, he not only felt impelled to exert himself to save his countrymen, as he was himself the cause of their meditated destruction, but he found his own safety involved, as well as that of his royal niece. Accordingly he covered himself with sackcloth and ashes, and rent the air with his cries. This being made known to Esther through the servants of the harem, who now knew of their relationship, she sent Hatach, one of the royal eunuchs, to demand the cause of his grief; through that faithful servant he made the facts known to her, urged upon her the duty of delivering her people, and encouraged her to risk the consequences of the attempt. She was found equal to the occasion. She hazarded her life by entering the royal presence uncalled, and having by discreet management procured a favorable opportunity, accused Haman to the king of plotting to destroy her and her people. His doom was sealed on this occasion by the means which in his agitation he took to avert it; and when one of the eunuchs present intimated that this man had prepared a gallows fifty cubits high on which to hang Mordecai, the king at once said, "Hang him thereon." This was, in fact, a great aggravation of his offence, for the previous night the king, being unable to sleep, had commanded the records of his reign to be read to him; and the reader had providentially turned to the part recording the conspiracy which had been frustrated through Mordecai. The king asked what had been the reward of this mighty service, and being answered, "Nothing," he commanded that any one who happened to be in attendance without should be called. Haman was there, having come for the very purpose of asking the king's leave to hang Mordecai upon the gallows he had prepared, and was asked what should be done to the man whom the king delighted to honor? Thinking that the king could delight to honor no one but himself, he named the highest and most public honors he could conceive, and received from the monarch the astounding answer, "Make haste, and do even so to Mordecai that sitteth in the king's gate!" Then was Haman constrained, without a word, and with seeming cheerfulness, to repair to the man whom he hated beyond all the world, to invest him with the royal robes, and to conduct him in magnificent cavalcade through the city, proclaiming, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honor." After this we may well believe that the sense of poetical justice decided the perhaps till then doubtful course of the king. when he heard of the gallows which Haman had prepared for the man by whom his own life had been preserved (Esther 3-8). B.C. 474. SEE HAMAN. Mordecai was invested with power greater than that which Haman had lost, and the first use he made of it was, as far as possible, to neutralize or counteract the decree obtained by Haman. It could not be recalled, as the kings of Persia had no power to rescind a decree once issued; but, as the altered wish of the court was known, and as the Jews were permitted to stand on their defence, they were preserved from the intended destruction, although much blood was, on the appointed day, shed even in the royal city. The Feast of Purim was instituted in memory of this deliverance, and is celebrated to this day (Es 9:10). SEE PURINI. He was probably the author of the book of Esther, which contains the narrative. His name is freely introduced into the apocryphal additions to that book, to which, however, it is unnecessary to pay attention. SEE ESTHER, BOOK OF. There are some questions connected with Mordecai that demand further consideration.
1. His date. This is pointed out with great particularity by the writer himself, not only by the years of the king's reign, but by his own genealogy in Es 2:5, G. Most interpreters, indeed, have understood this passage as stating that Mordecai himself was taken captive with Jehoiachin. But that any one who had been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar in the eighth year of his reign should be vizier after the twelfth year of any Persian king among the successors of Cyrus is not very easy to believe. Besides, too, the difficulty of supposing the ordinary laws of human life to be suspended in the case of any person mentioned in Scripture, when the sacred history gives no such intimation, there is a peculiar defiance of probability in the supposition that the cousin-german of the youthful Esther, her father's brother's son, should be of an age ranging from 90 to 170 years at the time that she was chosen to be queen on account of her youth and beauty. But not only is this interpretation of Es 2:5, G excluded by chronology, but the rules of grammatical propriety equally point out, not Mordecai, but Kish, as being the person who was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar at the time when Jehoiachin was carried away. Because, if it had been intended to speak of Mordecai as led captive, the ambiguity would easily have been avoided by either placing the clause אֲשֶׁר הָגלָה, etc., immediately after בּשׁוּשִׁן הִבַּירָה, and then adding his name and genealogy, "וּשׁמוֹ מ8, or else by writing וַהוּא. instead of אֲשֶׁר at the beginning of verse 6. Again, as the sentence stands, the distribution of the copulative ו distinctly connects the sentence וִיהַי אֹמֵןin verse 7 withהָיָה in verse 5, showing that three things are predicated of Mordecai: (1) that he lived in Shushan; (2) that his name was Mordecai, son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish the Benjamite, who was taken captive with Jehoiachin; (3) that he brought up Esther. This genealogy does, then, fix with great certainty the age of Mordecai. He was great- grandson of a contemporary of Jehoiachin. Now four generations cover 120 years and 120 years from B.C. 598 brings us to B.C. 479, i.e., to the sixth year of the reign of Xerxes; thus confirming with singular force the arguments which led to the conclusion that Ahasuerus is Xerxes. SEE AHASUERUS. This carrying back of the genealogy of a captive to the time of the captivity has an obvious propriety, as connecting the captives with the family record preserved in the public genealogies before the captivity, just as an American would be likely to carry up his pedigree to the ancestor who emigrated from England (see Bertheau, Exeq. FIctndb. ad loc.). Furthermore, it would seem entirely possible (though it cannot be certainly proved) that the Mordecai mentioned in the duplicate passage, Ezr 2:2; Ne 7:7, as one of the leaders of the captives who returned from time to time from Babylon to Judaea, SEE EZRA, was the same as Mordecai of the book of Esther. It is not unlikely that on the death of Xerxes, or possibly during his lifetime, he may have obtained leave to lead back such Jews as were willing to accompany him, and that he did so. His age need not have exceeded fifty or sixty years, and his character points him out' as likely to lead his countrymen back from exile if he had the opportunity. The name Mordecai not occurring elsewhere makes this supposition the more probable. We may add that in a passage of Josephus (Ant. 11:4, 9), which gives an account of troubles excited by the Samaritans against the Jews about that time, as they were rebuilding the Temple, the names of Ananias and Mordecai (Μαρδοχαῖος) are given along with that of Zerubbabel as ambassadors from the Jews to king Darius.
2. As regards Mordecai's place in profane history, the domestic annals of the reign of Xerxes are so scanty that it would not surprise us to find no mention of this Jew. But there is a person named by Ctesias, who probably saw the very chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia referred to in Es 10:2, and whose name and character present some points of resemblance with Mordecai, viz. Matacas or Natacas (as the name is variously written), described by him as Xerxes's chief favorite, and the most powerful of them all. His brief notice of him in these words, ἡμιαῤῥένων δὲ μέγιστον ἠδύνατο Νατακᾶς, is in exact agreement with the description of Mordecai (Es 9:4; Es 10:2-3). He further relates of him that when Xerxes, after his return from Greece, had commissioned Megabyzus to go and plunder the temple of Apollo at Ilelphi (perhaps, rather, the temple of Apollo Didlymnus, near Miletus, which was destroyed by Xerxes after his return, Strabo, 14, cap. 1, § 5), upon his refusal, he sent Matacas the eunuch to insult the god and to plunder his property; which Matacas did, and returned to Xerxes. It is obvious how grateful to the feelings of a Jew, such as Mordecai was, would be a commission to desecrate and spoil a heathen temple. There is also much probability in the selection of a Jew to be his prime minister by a monarch of such decided iconoclastic propensities as Xerxes is known to have had (Prideaux, Connect. 1:231-233). Xerxes would doubtless see much analogy between the Magian tenets of which he was so zealous a patron and those of the Jews' religion; just as Pliny actually reckons Moses (whom he couples with Jannes) among the leaders of the Magian sect, in the very same passage in which he relates that Osthanes the Magian author and heresiarch accompanied Xerxes in his Greek expedition, and widely diffused the Magian doctrines (lib. 30, cap. 1, § 2); and in § 4 he seems to identify Christianity also with Magic. From the context it appears highly probable that this notice of Moses and of Jannes may be derived from the work of Osthanes, and, if so, the probable intercourse of Osthanes with Mordecai would readily account for his mention of them. The point, however, here insisted upon is that the known hatred of Xerxes to idolworship makes his selection of a Jew for his prime minister very probable, and that there are strong points of resemblance in what is thus related of Matacas and what we know from Scripture of Mordecai. Again, that Mordecai was, what Matacas is related to have been, a eunuch, seems not improbable from his having neither wife nor child, from his bringing up his cousin Esther in his own house (to account for this, the Targum says that he was seventy-five years old), from his situation in the king's gate, from his access to the court of the women, and from his being raised to the highest post of power by the king, which we know from Persian history was so often the case with the king's eunuchs. With these points of agreement between them, there is sufficient resemblance in their names to add additional probability to the supposition of their identity. The most plausible etymology usually given for the name Mordecai is that favored by Gesenius, who connects it with Merodach the Babylonian idol (called Mardok in the cuneiform inscriptions), and which appears in the names Mesessi-Mordacus, Sisi-Mordachus, in nearly the same form as in the Greek, Μαρδοχαῖος. But it is highly improbable that the name of a Babylonian idol should have been given to him under the Persian dynasty (Rawlinson [Herod. 1:2701 points out Layardt's conclusion [Ain. 2:4411, that the Persians adopted generally the Assyrian religion as "(quite a mistake"), and it is equally improbable that Mordecai should have been taken into the king's service before the commencement of the Persian dynasty. If, then, we suppose the original form of the name to have been Matacai, it would easily in the Chaldee orthography become Mordecai, just as כָּרסֵא is for כַּסֵּא, שַׁרבַיט for שֵׁבֶט, דִּרמֶשֶׁק for דִּמֶּשֶׁק, etc. In the Targum of Esther he is said to be called Mordecai because he was like דִכּיָא למֵירָא "to pure myrrh."
3. As regards his place in rabbinical estimation, Mordecai, as is natural, stands very high. The interpolations in the Greek book of Esther are one indication of his popularity with his countrymen. The Targum (of late date) shows that this increased rather than diminished with the lapse of centuries. There Shimei in Mordecai's genealogy is identified with Shimei the son of Gera, who cursed David, and it is said that the reason why David would not permit him to be put to death then was that it was revealed to him that Mordecai and Esther should descend from him; but that in his old age, when this reason no longer applied, he was slain. It is also said of Mordecai that he knew the seventy languages, i.e., the languages of all the nations mentioned in Genesis 10, which the Jews count as seventy nations, and that his age exceeded 400 years (Juchasin ap. Wolf, and Stehelin, Rabb. Liter. 1:179). He is continually designated by the appellation צִדַּיקָא, "the Just," and the amplifications of Es 8:15 abound in the most glowing descriptions of the splendid robes, and Persian buskins, and Median scimitars, and golden crowns, and the profusion of precious stones and Miacedonian gold, on which was engraved a view of Jerusalem, and of the phylactery over the crown, and the streets strewed with myrtle, and the attendants, and the heralds with trumpets, all proclaiming the glory of Mordecai, and the exaltation of the Jewish people. Benjamin of Tudela mentions the ruins of Shushan and the remains of the palace of Alasuerus as still existing in his day, but places the tomb of Mordecai and Esther at Hamadan, or Ecbatana (page 128). Others, however, place the tomb of Mordecai in Susa, and that of Esther in or near Baram in Galilee (note to Asher's Benj. of Tud. page 166). With reference to the above-named palace of Ahasuerus at Shushan, it may be added that considerable remains of it were discovered by Mr. Loftus's excavations in 1852, and that he thinks the plan of the great colonnade, of which he found the bases remaining, corresponds remarkably to the description of the palace of Ahasuerus in Esther (Loftus, Chaldnea, ch. 28). It was built or begun by Darius Hystaspis. The socalled tomb of Esther and Mordecai at Hamadau has no claim, as Flandin remarks, to a very remote antiquity, for the dome and the general style of architecture correspond with those commonly found in Mussulman sepulchres in Persia. Although the tomb now standing is more ancient than that of Ezra, it is on essentially the same plan, both in its exterior and interior appearance, with such differences as proceeded from the difference of situation, one being in the midst of a town, and the other on the borders of the desert. The bell-shaped dome is also in an older taste than that which the other tomb exhibits. The stork's nest by which it is surmounted frequently appears upon the highest points of public buildings in that country. The tomb stands on ground somewhat more elevated than any in the immediate neighborhood, and is in rather a decayed condition. It occupies a small space in the midst of ruins, in the quarter appropriated to Jewish families. The entrance to the building is by a stone door of small dimensions, the key of which is always kept by the chief rabbi. This door conducts to the antechamber, which is small, and contains the graves of several rabbies. A second door, of still more confined dimensions than the first, leads to the tomb-chamber, which is larger than the outer apartment. In the midst of this stand the two sarcophagi of Mordecai and Esther, of dark and hard wood, like that of Ezra. They are cenotaphs, standing beside each other, distinguished only by the one (Mordecai's) being a little larger than the other. They are richly carved, and have a Hebrew inscription along the upper ledge, taken from Es 2:5; Es 10:3. The wood is in good preservation, though evidently very old. The present building is said to occupy the site of one more magnificent, which was destroyed by Timur Beg, soon after which this humble building was erected in its place, at the expense of certain devout Jew's; and it is added that it was fully repaired about 160 years since by a rabbi named Ismael. If this local statement be correct, some of the inscriptions which now appear must, as the resident Jews state, have belonged to the preceding building, which, however, could not have been the original mausoleum, since one of these inscriptions describes it as having been finished posterior to the Christian era (see, I.K. Porter's Travels in Persia, 2:107). SEE ACHMETHA.